Cafe Reviews

Hot Cakes

There's a reason they say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and I don't think it has anything to do with getting your metabolism revved up. To me, it's because breakfast food is the only thing that's appealing 'round the clock — morning, noon, or night.

I'll admit to having eaten cold pizza and leftover tortellini in the a.m. hours (what is it about Italian food that makes it taste so good the next day?), but other than that, there aren't many lunch or dinner items I crave at the crack of dawn. On the flip side, I could eat pancakes or a nice, hefty omelet anytime. It's quite possible that I've eaten eggs and toast at midnight more times than I have at breakfast.

Understandably, I was intrigued by Butterfield's Pancake House & Restaurant when I saw the eatery's motto: "Where breakfast is an all day affair."

Well, that's only sort of true. Turns out, Butterfield's has an old-school diner definition of "day," serving hungry patrons from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. I never managed to get out of bed early enough to see the first wave of customers, but at pretty much any other time, on weekends and weekdays alike, the restaurant seemed to be doing a brisk business. If this place ever takes its motto to the next level and expands its hours, I think it'd still be packed. The food's certainly tasty enough.

Even before I had a chance to dig into breakfast here, I appreciated a lot of the details. Passing by Butterfield's on Shea Boulevard, the place struck me as a typical big-box restaurant — kinda corporate, kinda bland. (It is a chain, although there are only two other locations, both in suburban Chicago.) But as I headed toward the front door, I noticed the big shady patio out front, a relaxed spot for people-watching. Inside, it was bright and airy, with booths around the periphery, walls of windows, and ample table seating in the center of the room. Caramel-colored wooden furniture added warmth, and the ceiling was decorated with oversized panels painted to look like waffles. I wouldn't call it cozy or particularly charming, but it was pleasant. Best of all, everything was immaculate.

Overall, the food was solid. With more than 80 breakfast entrees and 20 different sides, I could make only a dent in that sprawling menu. Butterfield's covered all the classics, like eggs Benedict, Denver omelets, buttermilk pancakes, and steel-cut oatmeal with raisins. And then there were unusual variations on the standards: crab cake Benedict, jambalaya omelets, mudslide pancakes, or oatmeal with caramelized bananas. Most items were around six or seven bucks and change.

Little things made the experience better than average. On the coffee front, Butterfield's served an extra-strong Boyd's brew, accompanied by tiny pitchers of fresh cream so thick and velvety that I wanted to drink it straight. (Yes, I did indulge in a couple of spoonfuls.) Other options included cappuccino, espresso, and lattes. And the freshly squeezed OJ was delicious — depending on where I was seated, I could watch employees pluck Sunkist oranges from a row of cardboard crates and toss them into an industrial-strength juicer. Minutes later, I'd be sipping a glass of it.

The thick, powdered sugar-dusted buttermilk pancakes were good, but I wouldn't say they were the star dish at this pancake house. However, the oven-baked pancakes totally deserved that honor. They were listed first on the menu, probably because they take 30 minutes to make and you need to get your order in ASAP. There were only two sizes and two kinds: apple and "German," a plain cake that comes with a drizzle of lemon juice.

According to my waiter, the "large" is bigger than the plate it's served on, so I went with a "baby" apple pancake, which was still an inch thick and as wide as a Frisbee. I loved its textures — moist and doughy in the center, gooey in the parts filled with tender apples, and sort of chewy around the edges, where the bits cooked to a crisp had soaked up some of the caramel topping. It was like eating an entree-sized dessert.

The apple cinnamon French toast couldn't top that, but it had a similar charm, with three golden slices of bread slathered in sweet glazed cinnamon apples. (It didn't take 30 minutes, either.) The Swedish pancakes, served with tangy lingonberry sauce, were thin and buttery, and I also enjoyed the Belgian waffle, topped with strawberries and whipped cream. It was prepared with just the right balance of crisp exterior and fluffy middle.

On the savory side, the spinach and Gruyère crepes were quite appealing, both visually and flavor-wise. Mushrooms and minced onions added to their earthy flavor, and a layer of Hollandaise sauce made them a guilty pleasure. Hollandaise was a main attraction of the portobello Benedict, too — along with a grilled mushroom tucked between an English muffin and a poached egg, the addition of pesto to the sauce made it interesting.

Corned beef hash and hash browns with onions were both fine, but I wished they would've been fried a little longer. The crunchy stuff is what makes them, in my book. The cheese grits didn't rock my world, either. I like grits with a pat of butter and a handful of cheese thrown in, so that all the flavors mingle in each bite; these just weren't luscious enough.

But the asparagus and potato frittata had a great texture, with a layer of melted Swiss and Parmesan on top of light, fluffy eggs. The Mediterranean egg scrambler was even better, thanks to bits of prosciutto, onion, tomato, black olive, and a dose of shredded mozzarella to make it creamy.

I don't know about you, but that's something I could eat any time of the day or night.

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Michele Laudig
Contact: Michele Laudig

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